After months of what seemed to be unremitting bad news for the entertainment sector, suddenly a few rays of sunlight have begun to shine. This may be a false dawn but several indicators are pointing in a positive direction at the same time.
The first of these is actually a negative negative, if that makes any sense. At the start of the pandemic, all those months ago, Sonia Friedman predicted that by around now, 70% of theatres in the United Kingdom would have gone out of business. While a small number have regrettably disappeared and others may be on the brink, it does not currently seem likely that the majority of those holding on will be forced to shut up shop forever in the last months of 2020.
There have certainly been mass redundancies, impossibly difficult times for freelancers who have been trying to survive on no pay at all and difficulties for theatres who have lost all of their income, somewhat alleviated for some by the allocation of long-delayed funding from Arts Council England and its equivalents in neighbouring countries.
Some theatres have begun to reopen, while others are developing their online presence and capabilities, all hoping to offer at least a reminder of their existence, if hardly operating in a fashion that is even vaguely close to normality. Even at the end of last week, things looked very bleak. Every theatre in England had been forced to close down by law for a period of a month in measures broadly mirrored across the United Kingdom, with no certainty about the prospects of returning in time for the panto / Christmas show season.
The bold have already announced plans to open during the first week in December. That assumes the ban will be lifted at the end of the current lockdown. But that could be overly optimistic. At present, the virus is picking up pace with increasing numbers of deaths recorded on a daily basis and one in 80 people infected. In that light, unless there are major developments in the next fortnight, theatres may be obliged to accept that the lucrative Yuletide bonanza will not be happening in 2020.
Looking further ahead, there is suddenly a genuine prospect that our industry may be able to start planning for a mid-term future that is much closer to normal than anyone had expected a week ago. We just have to hope that the new vaccine is as good as the hype and, given all of the disasters and incompetence over the last eight months, implementation is more successful than anything else that our government has attempted since this pernicious virus brought us all to our knees.
If that is the case, then perhaps by the second half of 2021 we will all be allowed back into theatres, will feel safe when we get there and enjoy the pleasures of watching live shows on stage in auditoria that are packed to the rafters.
Maybe that is wishful thinking, but considering where we have got to, wishful thinking is a major step forward.